TPA Disaster Response Network Coordinator: Mindy Kronenberg, Ph.D.
To download APA's Disaster Response Network Fact Sheet (PDF format), click here.
Disaster Response: A Closer Look
The Tennessee Psychological Association maintains a network of psychology professionals who are ready to volunteer in the event of a natural disaster or similar catastrophe. The TPA Disaster Response Network (DRN) is designed to disseminate information among psychology volunteers across the state who then provide aid through area Red Cross offices.
There are Disaster Response Networks for each state under the umbrella of the American Psychological Association and individual state Psychological Associations. Network volunteers work in conjunction with the Red Cross to provide assistance at shelters around the state. Volunteer responsibilities include providing supportive counseling to victims of disasters. Counseling is typically provided in individual and group formats at Red Cross shelters established in the wake of a disaster. Specific needs are determined through liaison with Red Cross Mental Health Coordinators at relief shelters.
Volunteers to the Network are encouraged to complete disaster response training offered through local Red Cross chapters. Training is available through your local chapter of the Red Cross. For more information go to the Red Cross website at www.redcross.org and enter your zip code to find the nearest Red Cross office offering training classes. Pertinent training courses include Disaster Mental Health Services and Psychological First Aid.
During my tenure as DRN Coordinator, I have been asked many times, "What can I expect when I respond to a disaster?" In response to this question, I thought it might be helpful to describe my recent experience after the tornados in February. The storms that swept through Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky just over a month ago killed over 50 people and injured many more. Dozens of families were left without food, shelter, or clothing. The morning after the storms, I contacted Mental Health Coordinators in the areas affected to determine the need for volunteers. I was told of the need for mental health support at the Red Cross Headquarters in Gallatin and instructed to spread the word through the Disaster Response Network. I sent an e-mail out to the DRN calling for volunteers.
I arrived at the Red Cross Headquarters in Sumner County on a Saturday morning. My first impression of the activity at HQ was one of organized chaos. I knew from previous experience that I needed to find the Volunteer Mental Health Coordinator who would assign me to a task for the day. I was uncertain about what I might be asked to do, but I had a few ideas. I knew I might be sent to an area shelter to provide brief supportive counseling. It was also possible that I would go out with a team of volunteers to meet with survivors and family members of storm victims. When I located the VMH Coordinator, I was told I would serve on a Condolence Team. In addition to me, the team consisted of two nurses and a lay volunteer. Our job was to take a list of all storm victims in the county and travel to area funeral homes to obtain contact information for next of kin responsible for funeral costs. We would then use this information to contact the next of kin to provide the $500.00 benefit the Red Cross provides toward funeral costs. During our contact with family members, my role would be to provide brief supportive therapy. Our list of victims would take us to three funeral homes by days end.
We arrived at the first funeral home to learn that visitation was in progress for two victims who were related. The family member we spoke with had lost his mother and brother in the storm. We were able to inform him of the Red Cross and FEMA benefits and provide support. I talked with him about the emotional toll of his loss, how he was coping, and about social support available to him in the community. We then assessed his need for any additional mental health referral sources and provided contact information for services in his area. At the next funeral home we found that the service for the deceased was actually in progress so we were unable to make contact with the family. At our next stop, we obtained contact information of family members of the deceased, but were unable to reach them by phone. By this point, it was late afternoon and we had made contact with all of the families on our list. We finished the day with a report to the coordinator at the Red Cross.
This experience took me out of my "comfort zone" as I had to use active listening and supportive therapy skills outside the context of a structured therapy session and in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. While it was somewhat challenging to provide therapeutic support on the fly, it was also quite rewarding to know that I was providing much needed support. Furthermore, I felt a strong sense of camaraderie with other volunteers on the team.
The DRN has worked well up to this point with several psychologists responding to initial requests for volunteers. However, we need all the help we can get. I hope you will consider joining us as a volunteer. Please do not hesitate to contact me for additional information.